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A grape day for an escape


Visiting Holland Marsh Wineries a day of discovery

When most people think of the great grape growing regions of the world, few of them would think of the Holland Marsh, near the northern boundary of York Region.

The Marsh, known by most for its incredible vegetable harvests, is home to some of the most fertile and bountiful soil in Ontario. Loaded with nutrients, the ‘black muck’ is perfect for carrots, onions, celery and other veggies.

It’s not, however, perfect for grapes.

‘We actually sit on the top of the bowl that surrounds the Marsh,’ said Narek Nersisyan, Holland Marsh Wineries’ head of sales and marketing. ‘Most of the black muck has been washed away from our farm leaving behind a sandy, clay and loamy-type of soil that is excellent for grapes.’

Situated on 22 acres on the southeastern rim of the Marsh, Holland Marsh Wineries is the passion project of the Nersisyans – a family that knows one thing – wine.

Narek and his brother Norie, who oversees the winemaking operation, represent the fourth generation of winemakers in the Nersisyan family. Their father, Roland, learned the trade from his grandfather and when the time came to set up shop in Ontario, Roland found the current site and purchased it in 2007.

That same year, they planted the first block of grape vines. Three years later, the family-owned and operated Holland Marsh Wineries opened the doors and sold their first bottle of wine.

‘When my dad found this farm it didn’t look anything like it does today,’ Narek explained. ‘He fell in love with the land and he saw a diamond in the rough. It’s a really unique sort of bowel shape here so the heat stays and the cold stays. We’re at the tip of the marsh so the soil is completely different from what you see in the marsh.’

Holland Marsh Wineries grows a variety of grapes, including Vidal – the most planted variety of grape in Canada – baco noir, a little bit of riesling, some cami noir, a little cabernet and a few other varieties.

Not all of them work out the way the Nersisyans expect.

‘What we’ve found is that some of the varieties that should grow here on paper don’t and some that aren’t supposed to grow here do,’ Narek said. ‘It’s very much trial and error for some varieties.’

Knowing what will grow on the farm is almost as challenging as knowing what consumers want in a final product. As tastes change and fads come and go, wineries have to hedge their bets a little and gaze into the crystal ball to see what’s coming.

‘Everyone is back on the pinot grigio train,’ Narek began. ‘Before it was the buttery chardonay and now they want unoaked chardonay. It’s constantly changing but people are definitely shifting to drier wines, they don’t want sweeter wines.

‘To prove that point, we have a rose that we sell and it sells out every year. It’s a dry rose, not a sweet rose and we can’t keep up to the demand.’

An award-winning vintner – the 2016 Reserve Merlot and the 2017 Cabernet Baco both secured honours at the All Canadian Wine Championships – Holland Marsh Wineries is as accessible and welcoming as the family behind the label.

The winery offers a tasting bar for those who want to sample end products only and three different tours – Boutique, Enhanced and VIP – that all finish with a tasting but also give a behind-the-scenes experience designed to enlighten and educate their curious guests. Tours must be reserved in advance.

‘We’re doing a lot of tours these days,’ Narek said. ‘As things are beginning to open we’re finding a lot of folks are itching to get out and this is a perfect experience for them. They come out, wander around the property, take a walk by the pond and enjoy a tasting with a cheese tray, a charcuterie plate and some local jellies. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.’

They also host weddings and special events in the massive Clubhouse, a comfy space built from pine, harvested locally from a mill in Innisfil.

‘We firmly believe in being a part of the local community,’ said Narek. ‘We work with local farmers, cheese makers and caterers to ensure we’re supporting our neighbours and doing what we can to keep the local economy strong.’

Holland Marsh Wineries is located at 18270 Keele St, Newmarket. Guests can purchase wines on location from the gift store, can take a tour (reservations required) and enjoy a tasting menu. Call 905-775-4924 or email for more information.

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